Additional Math Pages & Resources

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How do you measure a life? Part II

Yesterday I asked if we can use elementary math to describe a person's life. I haven't come to a conclusion or answer to the question. But I learned some people insist math and science are attempts to express new things we didn't know before, in a way that everyone will understand. In contrast, poetry will express what we already know, in new ways that some will understand.

Poetry consists of an awareness of experience, expressed through meaning, sound, and rhythmic language to provoke an emotional response.

Mathematics is a science dealing with numbers, shapes, structures and change, and the relationships between these concepts.

So I wondered if a body of mathematical poetry might exist. Could it help us measure a life in more than just days lived or money accumulated?

Today I must admit that the bulk of math poetry does not. I've found plenty intended as education or entertainment, not expression of deep meaning of a person's existence. I saw memory aides - rhyming statements of how a math process works. I found plenty of problems presented to kids in a sing-song way, or limericks which pose a question to be answered or a puzzle to be solved. Here's an example:

Take five times which plus half of what,
And make the square of what you've got.
Divide by one-and-thirty square,
To get just four -- that's right, it's there.

This is not what I am looking for. After some searching, I did find tons (well, not really tons in a math sense) of serious discussion on math and how it might help us find meaning in the universe. Here's a sample:

Logic (thus math) starts with people labeling the existence of any object or phenomenon 
(God, rock, flower, etc.) by a symbol we call 1, or yes, or +, or dot, or true.  
The lack or absence of existence of an object is labeled as 0, or no, or -, or dash, or false
The symbols are used to describe objects around us as either existing or absent...

That discussion went on for many pages and my eyelids closed with a flutter! Then I found this:

If poetry is the love of carefully-chosen words and crafted phrases to convey image and idea;
  if a mathematician channels a love of pattern, quantity, and structure into carefully-chosen words and crafted phrases;
the intersection of their realms should be non-trivial.

Now we're talking! That statement led to this poem entitled An Equation for my children, by Wilmer Mills

It may be esoteric and perverse
That I consult Pythagoras to hear
A music tuning in the universe.
My interest in his math of star and sphere
Has triggered theorems too far-fetched to solve. 
They don't add up. 
But if I rack and toil
More in ether than mortal coil,
It is to comprehend how you revolve,
By formulas of orbit, ellipse, and ring.

Dear son and daughter, if I seem to range
It is to chart the numbers spiraling
Between my life and yours until the strange
And seamless beauty of equations click
Solutions for the heart's arithmetic.

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